Tony Awards: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

6:00 AM 6/9/2017

by David Rooney and Scott Feinberg

THR’s chief theater critic David Rooney shares his preferences, while awards analyst Scott Feinberg names his predictions to win in the top categories.

'Dear Evan Hansen,' 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812'
'Dear Evan Hansen,' 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812'
Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes, Matthew Murphy and Chad Batka

It's been a strong season for Broadway, with a glut of formidable contenders for Tony honors across both play and musical fields. There are no clear frontrunners along the lines of last year's monster hit Hamilton to dominate the race, which means the 2017 ceremony will be an unusually competitive one, with prognosticators still struggling right down to the wire to pick winners in many categories.

Leading the musical field with 12 nominations is Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. But that brilliantly conceived electro-poperatic retelling of a chapter of War and Peace is a divisive show that can't match the visceral emotional impact of Dear Evan Hansen, with nine nominations; or the popular underdog appeal of Come From Away, a potential dark horse with seven.

Among the new plays, pundits are split between J.T. Rogers' Oslo, which shapes nine months of secret back-channel peace negotiations into a riveting political thriller; and Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, which makes ingenious use of the Ibsen classic to consider what has and hasn't changed in terms of gender politics in the past 140 years.

Those plays received seven and eight nominations, respectively, with Doll's House claiming the rare the distinction of noms for its entire four-member cast, including Laurie Metcalf, the favorite to win for lead actress in a play.

On the musical revival side, the blockbuster smash Hello, Dolly! is the evening's closest thing to a lock for that honor, and only the most clamorous of upsets would deny its star Bette Midler the award for lead actress in a musical. The play revival stakes, however, have shaped up as a two-horse race between Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes and August Wilson's Jitney, both of them staged in lauded productions from Manhattan Theatre Club that garnered six nominations apiece.

The 71st annual Tony Awards will be handed out June 11 at 8 p.m., airing live on CBS (tape-delayed on the West Coast) from New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Kevin Spacey will make his debut as the event's emcee.

Ahead of Sunday's ceremony, The Hollywood Reporter’s chief theater critic David Rooney shares his preferences, while awards analyst Scott Feinberg names his predictions to win in the top categories.

Read more All the nominees | Nominations analysis | Play predictions by math

  • Best Musical

    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
    For sheer imagination, vigorous storytelling, musical vitality and irrepressible, irreverent spirit, writer-composer Dave Malloy's wild War and Peace riff deserves to win hands down. But this buoyant ensemble piece, one of the most immersive spectacles Broadway has ever seen, is not everyone's cup of vodka, so while my heart is with Great Comet, my money is on Dear Evan Hansen.

    WILL WIN: Dear Evan Hansen
    The most interesting race of the night, in my estimation, pits the year’s most nominated show (The Great Comet, adapted from 70 pages of War and Peace) against the show that features the year’s most acclaimed performance (Dear Evan Hansen, starring 23-year-old Ben Platt) against the most unlikely feel-good show of the year (“9/11 musical” Come From Away), plus the outsider of the group, Groundhog Day. The general sentiment is that this race is too close to call between Dear Evan Hansen and Come from Away. Some tip the latter because they think people are craving a reason to feel good, but I’m sticking with the former. Several recent winners were anything but feel-good. The last two, Fun Home and Hamilton, also came up from off-Broadway, winning accolades in the community along the way. And, most fundamentally, Dear Evan Hansen's music, by recent La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is catchier and more memorable.

  • Best Play

    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Oslo
    Given the frequent domination of Brit imports in this category and the attendant gripes about the restrictive climate for new American plays on Broadway, it's heartening to see a category celebrating the primetime debuts of four gifted homegrown playwrights — two of them women. The scope and complexity of J.T. Rogers' intimate political epic about the common goal of peace in a divided world, as well as the author's skill in defining such a large gallery of distinctive characters, should nail the win. But if Lucas Hnath's uproariously funny and provocative A Doll's House, Part 2 walks away with the prize, I won't be complaining.

    WILL WIN: Oslo
    This category’s four nominees were all written by playwrights never previously produced on Broadway and are each strange and daring in their own way. My sense is that, despite the announcement of a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for Sweat and incredible affection for the women behind Indecent, the race will come down to Oslo, a three-hour exploration of the Oslo peace accords, and A Doll’s House Part 2, a 90-minute imagining of an addendum to a classic — both driven by outstanding writing and acting. The latter has come on strong in the homestretch, with a big PR push by producer Scott Rudin. But my sense is that it will come up just short of knocking off the former, which ostensibly has more real-world applicability and gravitas, like many past winners in this category, and has swept the precursor awards.

  • Best Revival of a Musical

    Julieta Cervantes

    SHOULD WIN: Hello, Dolly!
    No disrespect to the other nominees, but this is a no-contest category. Jerry Zaks' lovingly mounted production of the 1964 Jerry Herman musical about a meddling matchmaker with a secret plan for her own happiness is a blast of pure joy to cut through the storm clouds of troubled times. To paraphrase one of the tuneful score's most uplifting songs, this crew have every reason to put on their Sunday clothes and have their picture took.

    WILL WIN: Hello, Dolly!
    Only five titles were eligible for consideration in this category, and the Nominating Committee could have nominated four (it’s surprising they took a pass on Sunset Blvd.), but instead went with three: Hello, Dolly!, which was first mounted in 1964 (winning best musical) in a production that resurfaced in various return engagements; along with Falsettos and Miss Saigon, both of which opened in the early '90s (and were nominated for best musical but came up short back then). Falsettos, which ended its limited run in January, and Miss Saigon, which is doing decent if unspectacular business at the box office, both have their admirers. But Dolly is Broadway’s biggest box-office phenomenon since Hamilton, Midler is as beloved as anyone currently beating the boards and this Rudin production is first-rate all-around, hence its 10 noms (the most of all shows but The Great Comet), so this is no contest.

  • Best Revival of a Play

    Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Jitney
    The last remaining chapter of August Wilson's 10-play chronicle of 20th-century African-American experience to be produced on Broadway, this slice of late-'70s life in the rundown office of a Pittsburgh gypsy cab company was impeccably directed by Wilson specialist Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and performed with rich humanity, humor and grit by a flawless ensemble that included John Douglas Thompson, Brandon J. Dirden, Andre Holland and Anthony Chisholm.

    WILL WIN: Jitney
    Closed shows are widely thought to be at something of a disadvantage, ostensibly because they are no longer top of voters' minds. But the record does not bear this out — indeed, just last year a closed show (A View From the Bridge) won in this category. I expect another, Jitney, the last of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays to make it to Broadway, to do so this year, having already swept the other precursor awards. The other three nominees are all still running. The Little Foxes, which is being performed in rep, has many admirers, but appears to have a better shot in the acting categories. Present Laughter, a great showcase for Kevin Kline, is the one out-and-out comedy of the lot, and it could pay to be different. And Six Degrees of Separation features some fine acting, but hasn’t clicked as much critically or commercially as its rivals.

  • Best Lead Actor in a Musical

    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
    Classic leading man Andy Karl's resourcefulness in reinventing an iconic Bill Murray screen role in Groundhog Day — not to mention the show-must-go-on determination he demonstrated after sustaining a serious knee injury on the eve of opening night — make him a significant contender. But Platt's raw emotional transparency as a painfully vulnerable teenager caught up in a momentous lie makes his performance an unforgettably wrenching rollercoaster ride. You wonder how he makes it home each night.

    WILL WIN: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
    For his excellent debut in The Great Comet, Josh Groban earned an invite to the party, but his character disappears for large chunks of the show and it's a stretch to see him winning against this level of competition. Christian Borle is a community favorite with two wins already under his belt, and he could just as easily have been nominated this year for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as for Falsettos, which shows his range, but not the full extent of his abilities. David Hyde Pierce has won plaudits for turning an easily overshadowed part in Hello, Dolly! into one worth remembering. But, barring some sort of a crazy vote-split, this race is between Groundhog Day's Andy Karl and Dear Evan Hansen's Ben Platt. Karl, who is widely adored in town, is nominated for the third time in four years and has already won Olivier and Drama Desk awards for his performance, which is good enough to escape Bill Murray's shadow and stand on its own two legs — well, only one that's fully functioning. But Platt is operating on a different planet, so much so that he silenced virtually all whispers about nepotism (he's the son of heavyweight producer Marc Platt), won raves and topped dozens of more senior performers to become the youngest-ever winner of the Drama League's Distinguished Performance Award. At the end of the day, voters are likely to conclude that Karl will have other shots and may one day be even better than he is in this role, but Platt may never be more perfectly matched with a role than he is in Evan Hansen.

  • Best Lead Actress in a Musical

    Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

    SHOULD WIN: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
    It's been a half-century since Midler last appeared in a Broadway musical, stepping in as Tzeitel two years into the original run of Fiddler on the Roof. Returning as a nimble septuagenarian with a twinkle in her eye that just won't quit, she cooks up sublime comic chemistry with co-star David Hyde Pierce (also in superlative form), and captains a top-notch ensemble cast with a mix of blazing star power and generosity, all while sustaining a mutual love affair with every member of the audience. In any other season, War Paint's redoubtable co-stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole would be duking it out. But this year, you can bet on Bette.

    WILL WIN: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
    "The Divine Miss M," who has never won a competitive Tony, is the undisputed belle of the ball this season, making a long-awaited return to a Broadway musical (cue "It's so nice to have you back where you belong") in an iconic role, and winning raves for doing so. If she were to lose it would be one of the biggest upsets in Tonys history. It doesn't look like anyone poses her any serious threat: War Paint's Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole are both two-time past winners who are likely to cancel each other out; and The Great Comet's Denee Benton and Miss Saigon's Eva Noblezada are both making their Broadway debuts and, while impressive, they remain largely unknown to many.

  • Best Lead Actor in a Play

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
    As the self-regarding peacock in Noel Coward's 1939 comedy, Kline puts vain matinee idol Garry Essendine in the eye of his own perpetually roiling melodramatic hurricane. A master class in balancing spry verbal wit with the expressive physicality of a born farceur, the veteran actor's delectable characterization should earn him his third Tony, based on what he can convey with a single arched eyebrow alone.

    WILL WIN: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
    Denis Arndt is the sole nominee from a closed show, Heisenberg, so he’s not winning. Corey Hawkins is the sole acting nominee from his show, Six Degrees of Separation, which doesn’t bode well for him either. A Doll’s House, Part 2’s Chris Cooper, making his first appearance on Broadway in 37 years, is excellent in a show that could do very well, but plays an understated part that makes it hard to imagine a path to victory for him. And Oslo’s Jefferson Mays is a favorite of the community, but he’s just one part of a large ensemble in which several performers make similar-sized contributions — plus he’s already won, for I Am My Own Wife in 2003. That leaves Kevin Kline, a revered vet making a return to Broadway after a decade away who also has won twice (both for musicals). But his most recent win was 36 years ago and no one can miss the fact that he's the heart and soul of his show, making him the clear favorite.

  • Best Lead Actress in a Play

    Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

    SHOULD WIN: Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2
    A charter member of Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, arguably the country's preeminent incubator of great acting talent, Metcalf has been up for three previous Tonys and deserves to translate her fourth nomination into a win. Her ferocious take on Ibsen's protofeminist heroine Nora Helmer, returning 15 years after slamming the door on marriage and motherhood, is fearless and abrasive, shamelessly manipulative and wickedly funny — a whirlwind of conflicting forces feeding the poignant undertow of her character's long hard struggle for dignified independence.

    WILL WIN: Laure Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2
    One couldn’t hope for five greater thesps to share a category. The noms were the wins for Cate Blanchett and Sally Field, the sole representatives of their closed shows The Present and The Glass Menagerie, respectively, and Jennifer Ehle is a revered two-time winner, but only gets so many moments to shine in the true ensemble production that is Oslo. That leaves two four-time nominees who, rather remarkably, have never won before: The Little Foxes’ Laura Linney and A Doll’s House, Part 2’s Laurie Metcalf. Linney may well have the tougher assignment, playing different parts in rep. But my sense is that voters feel Metcalf is actually more indispensable to her show, which also has more nominations than any other play — new or revival — this season. If anyone is going to win for it, she would be the best bet.

  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical

    Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

    SHOULD WIN: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
    There's legitimate competition from Lucas Steele's narcissistic lady-killer Anatole, in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; and from Andrew Rannells as the sexy-sweet Whizzer, who reveals the hurt and anger beneath his lightweight façade when tragedy strikes in Falsettos. But as adventure-starved Yonkers feed-store clerk Cornelius Hackl, Creel effortlessly provides the glue in a delightful romantic subplot that sends four fast friends out on a magical night of New York City romance. Who could resist?

    WILL WIN: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
    This is a case where coattails — namely, those of Hello, Dolly! — could really make the difference, with the beneficiary being Gavin Creel. It's a tad disconcerting that voters didn't even nominate Creel last year for She Loves Me, but I choose to blame that on an eccentric Nominating Committee, not on some issue with him. Plus, who's going to beat him? If the immensely popular Andrew Rannells was this category's sole representative from the closed show Falsettos, it would be tempting to predict him, but he's up against costar Brandon Uranowitz. The Great Comet's Lucas Steele is a great bad-guy and Dear Evan Hansen's Mike Faist is hilarious in a dark part of his own, but they're essentially new kids on the block and voters tend to wait until performers have a bit more seasoning before getting in their corner.

  • Best Featured Actress in a Musical

    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
    This is a tough category. Rachel Bay Jones is heart-shattering as the single mother trying to penetrate her son's solitude in Dear Evan Hansen; and as the first female American commercial airline pilot, whose love of flying takes a hit with the events of 9/11, Jenn Colella scores some of the most resonant moments in Come From Away. But as the nice Jewish girl straining to keep up with a life in which the rules keep changing, Stephanie J. Block in Falsettos gave one of the season’s funniest, most tender performances. Her rattled implosion, "I'm Breaking Down," was perfection.

    WILL WIN: Jenn Colella, Come from Away
    It wouldn't be a shock if Dear Evan Hansen's Rachel Bay Jones or Falsettos' Stephanie J. Block prevailed here, but I find it hard to imagine that voters will totally shut out Come from Away, a show many in the community genuinely love. But it seems a plausible winner only in the best musical category (where, again, I expect it to come up just short) and this one. The musical is as much of an ensemble effort as any this season, which makes it harder for any performer to stand out, but stand out Colella does — in no small part through her show-stopping solo, "Me and the Sky." She would be a worthy winner.

  • Best Featured Actor in a Play

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Michael Aronov, Oslo
    As an Israeli foreign ministry operative brought in to appease skeptical Palestinians at the negotiating table, Aronov combines rock-star swagger with laser-like political savvy, making his character a livewire presence who ups the voltage every moment he's on stage. But there'll be no dishonor if he loses to Danny DeVito, making an irresistible Broadway debut at 72 as the wily furniture dealer in Arthur Miller's The Price. DeVito made a meal out of a hardboiled egg that was comedy gold.

    WILL WIN: Danny DeVito, The Price
    While it's plausible that the coattails of Oslo and Jitney could tip this to Michael Aronov or John Douglas Thompson, respectively, history shows that Tony voters, as much as anyone, appreciate a big-name Hollywood star, especially when they're really good. Danny DeVito, in his Broadway debut, was really good chewing scenery — and an egg — in The Price, and he has the added prestige factor of playing a rare comedic role in an Arthur Miller drama.

  • Best Featured Actress in a Play

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
    Having co-stars Laura Linney and Nixon alternate as hungry schemer Regina Giddens and her depressed, dipsomaniac sister-in-law Birdie allowed for contrasting shadings in the key female roles of Lillian Hellman's 1939 drama of rapacious ambition. Daniel Sullivan's fine production elevated the play above its reputation as juicy melodrama, but Nixon's devastating Birdie, the one legitimate Southern aristocrat drawn into a nest of ruthless Alabama climbers, was the standout element, which should give her another Tony to put beside her 2006 award for Rabbit Hole.

    WILL WIN: Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
    Everyone seems to be picking The Little Foxes' Cynthia Nixon, who previously won in the lead category in 2006, and who probably gets bonus points this time around (like her costar Laura Linney), for capably juggling two very different parts in a repertory production. She's also likely to benefit from two splits, since she's nominated opposite two pairs of costars: Sweat's Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson and A Doll's House, Part 2's Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad. I'm tempted to pick Houdyshell, who won this award just last year for The Humans and, for my money, deserves it again. But ultimately I suppose the edge goes to her bigger-name competitor.

  • Best Direction of a Musical

    Courtesy of Chad Batka

    SHOULD WIN: Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
    Chavkin steered The Great Comet from its original cabaret presentation through various incarnations on the road to making her Broadway debut with an exhilarating, high-energy show that spills from the stage into every corner of the Imperial Theatre. A juggling act like no other this season, the show boasts dizzying narrative momentum, a populous ensemble of distinctive performers — the majority of them new to Broadway — and dazzling design elements (I'd kill for one of those sputnik chandeliers). But as deserving as Chavkin is, it would be impossible to begrudge Michael Greif an overdue win on his fourth nomination, for Dear Evan Hansen.

    WILL WIN: Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
    The Great Comet probably stands its best shot with Broadway rookie Rachel Chavkin, this category's sole female nominee. But considering how infrequently voters have awarded this prize to the director of a show they didn't also recognize with best musical or revival of a musical — just three times this century (2002, 2004 and 2006) — I have to assume it's actually between Hello Dolly!'s Jerry Zaks, Dear Evan Hansen's Michael Greif and possibly Come from Away's Christopher Ashley. The staging of Dolly is largely modeled on Gower Champion's original production, plus most of the praise has been heaped on Bette Midler, so I think it'll be the director of the best musical winner, which I expect will be Dear Evan Hansen.

  • Best Direction of a Play

    Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson

    SHOULD WIN: Bartlett Sher, Oslo
    A previous winner for South Pacific who has amassed an impressive seven nominations for staging both musicals and plays, Sher is the consummate sculptor of large-canvas, multi-character drama. His work on Rogers' three-hour political chronicle is a marvel of clarity, pace, nuanced character detail and cultural insight. This is another tricky category, with accomplished work from all five nominees, but the challenging scale of Oslo nudges Sher's achievement over the top.

    WILL WIN: Bartlett Sher, Oslo
    All five nominees seem like plausible winners, but only once this century, in 2002, has this award not gone to the director of a show that also won best play or revival of a play. By that logic, I have to believe it's between Bartlett Sher for Oslo and Ruben Santiago-Hudson for Jitney. Santiago-Hudson has won for acting (in August Wilson's Seven Guitars), but is making his Broadway directing debut here, so it will be interesting to see whether that plays to his advantage. My sense is that previous winner Sher probably has a slight edge, as he's now worked with pretty much everyone, his show is still running and it's hard to think of a bolder undertaking than a three-hour drama about the Oslo Accords.

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